The most significant court case in Turkey in at least five decades is about to start. Nearly two hundred retired and active-duty officers will be on trial for having plotted back in 2003 to destabilize the country through violent acts (including the bombing of mosques and the downing of a Turkish fighter jet) and to overthrow the AKP government. Defendant no. 1 in this trial, and the alleged leader of the coup plot, is my father-in-law, Cetin Dogan.
The tragedy is that this is as much a show trial as the one that took place on the tiny Yassiada island almost exactly 50 years ago. Then, the roles were reversed. A military junta (that time, a real one) had deposed the elected government and placed the president, prime minister, and cabinet ministers on trial on trumped up charges.
True to form, history is repeating itself as a farce. The evidence behind the current case, a trove of documents on CDs delivered to a newspaper by a “secret informer,” consists of blatant forgeries. These documents are allegedly secret military plans from 2003 detailing the coup preparations. Yet they contain anachronisms that leave no doubt that they were prepared in late 2008 at the earliest.
The most striking among these anachronisms are the references to entities -- firms, NGOs, military installations, hospitals – by names that they had yet to acquire. It’s as if a text pretending to be from 1970 referred to Diana Spencer as Princess of Wales—a title which she acquired only in 1981—or mentioned her car crash decades later. To any but the most jaundiced eye it is obvious that the incriminating documents have been authored not by the military officers on trial, but by others many years later.
But wait. Isn’t Turkey a democracy now, where such things aren’t supposed to happen?
Alas, the case says much about Turkey at present, not any of it pretty. The AKP government has fanned the flames against the defendants and exploited the case for political purposes. The pro-government media have disgraced themselves by publishing a steady stream of disinformation on the case (just check out Today’s Zaman for a good dose of it on a daily basis). Many leading members of the Turkish liberal intelligentsia have chosen to disregard the fabricated evidence lest their cherished narrative of a democratic government putting an end to “military tutelage” get tarnished.
As for the once-powerful military establishment, it stands so weakened by its own history of coups and meddling in politics, that it has been totally incapable of putting up a credible storyline. Even a smallish municipal public works department would have done a better job defending itself against the kind of massive miscarriage of justice that this case represents.
Watch how this trial unfolds, for it will say a lot about where Turkey is headed. If the evidence of forgery is disregarded and the charges aren’t dismissed, we will learn that the rule of law and Turkey don’t belong in the same sentence.